Foster the People can’t outrun ‘Pumped Up Kicks’

The Canadian Press
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But not desperate for next hit

On Friday, Foster the People performed an intentionally cosy show at Toronto’s venerable Horseshoe Tavern, months before they were to return to the city to play Massey Hall, a venue seven times larger.

Foster the People band members Jacob Fink (left) Mark Foster (centre) and Mark Pontius pose in Toronto on Thursday. — Photo by The Canadian Press

Tickets were thus scarce to the purposefully underbooked show, and seemed mostly to go to diehard fans of the L.A. sunshine-alt-pop purveyors or industry types. And yet, familiar catcalls still rang out: “Play ‘Pumped Up Kicks!”’

No, there will be no outrunning that hit, a five-time platinum crossover smash. But to the band’s mastermind Mark Foster, the unlikely nature of the song’s success — a commercially released demo recording about a homicidal teen — has proven comforting, in a way.

Foster figured there was simply no point in trying to repeat that song’s unique success when penning tunes for followup album “Supermodel,” which hit stores last week.

“We’ve never tried to write hit songs,” Foster said in an interview last week, flanked by band members Mark Pontius and Jacob Fink.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to try to chase a hit song. ... If a left-of-centre song becomes a hit, that’s great, because it was written in authenticity. It has a character to it.

“And I’m all for it whenever I see a band or an artist do something outside of the box that then becomes the centre of the box. ... But when you try to chase the centre of the box and that’s what you’re aiming for ... it becomes a diluted thing, that doesn’t really have a soul a lot of times.”

In fact, cultural soullessness was preoccupying Foster’s mind as he worked on “Supermodel.”

The cover is a psychedelic smear of camera flashes bathing a high-heeled blond, hunched from the attention. On the album-closing “Fire Escape,” he sings damningly of Los Angeles:

“The city you’ve made on this ocean of sand was founded on liars and self-made men/ I’ve watched the dreamers find their legs and I’ve seen the ones that come and get reduced to bones and rags.”

While Foster insists that probing the culture of celebrity is only a “piece of what the record’s about,” he agrees that such subjects might have seeped into his subconscious with the opportunities that accompanied the band’s successful debut, “Torches.”

Whether it was crooning “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” alongside the Beach Boys at the 2012 Grammy Awards or performing at Elton John’s post-Oscars party, Foster and co. found themselves navigating some surreal Hollywood situations with varying levels of comfort.

“I think we’ve always felt like fish out of water at those things, to be honest,” Foster said. “We put on suits and we sit there and we watch the dog and pony show, and I think on some hand we’re like, it’s exciting to be here because we’ve watched this on the other side, from our living room as kids.

“But then on the other hand, it’s kind of like: ‘What are we doing here right now?”’

Musically, “Supermodel” picks up on the same pan-pop sensibility that drove “Torches.”

Glossy, danceable tunes “Coming of Age” and “Best Friend” are giddy road-trip fuel. Foster’s appetite for cross-genre experimentation is also again evident: “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” opens with the same Clams Casino sample that powered A$AP Rocky’s “LVL” (Foster says they’d decided to use the clip before the New York rapper dropped his album, but were nevertheless undaunted when that happened).

Still, Foster worried that the record was a sufficient departure from the band’s debut that some fans might not keep up.

“I said the record was polarizing initially, and then I kind of had some time with the record and I was like, maybe it’s actually not as polarizing as I thought it was,” he said.

“And then now that it’s kind of come out, it’s like no, no, no, no. It’s been interesting to watch people’s reactions to it. Because the people that get it, get it. They love it. And the people that don’t get it, don’t get it.

“Actually, it’s been a much more positive reaction than I thought it was going to be. So yeah, it’s been cool.”

Organizations: Beach Boys

Geographic location: Los Angeles, Hollywood, New York

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